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Rules change for restaurants' outdoor cooking

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - 10:49 am

It's that time of year when restaurants and others offer food grilled outdoors. Regulations governing food-service providers who cook or grill foods outdoors year-round had been a topic of discussion for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Board of Health for a few years. That changed Monday night during the board's bimonthly meeting.

For at least a decade, the food ordinance governing restaurants using outdoor smokers and grills stated they could cook outside up to 10 days per month, but concerns about sanitary conditions, food temperature and other issues had been raised by health officials.

As an example, the late Bruce Marshall, owner of the former Chuck Wagon barbecue restaurant at the corner of Hobson Road and State Boulevard, ran afoul of local health officials in early 2007.

He fought the regulations, stating they were too strict and hurting his business. The regulations resulted in the restaurant being open only about three days a week.

Under new state regulations, the local 10-day rule is no longer applicable, said Dawn McDevitt, director of the health department's Food and Consumer Protection Division.

State rules now require a sink on concrete, a roof and other things for year-round outdoor cooking sites. “There's no way to do it permanently outside,” said Mindy Waldron, health department administrator. However, 11 establishments already operating under the 10-day-per-month outdoor cooking regulation will be allowed to continue until Dec. 31, 2010.

The meeting discussed another public-health concern: refugee health care.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, commissioner of health, reported much-needed funding is now coming to the department for refugee health care — and none too soon, as 400 of the 800 Burmese refugees slated for resettlement in Fort Wayne this year already have arrived.

The state refugee resettlement program at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration has given the health department a $164,000 grant toward additional staff and other costs related to refugee health care services.

FSSA has also given approval for the department to bill Medicaid for certain services for refugees.

In addition, the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation has given a $44,000 grant to the department to hire a part-time Burmese interpreter.

Waldron said the county commissioners have indicated they will approve $2 million toward relocation of the infectious disease clinic.

With the growing demands in refugee care, the health department needs additional space, and commissioners have asked the department to explore existing clinic sites or other buildings that could be used by the health department.

Waldron presented an overview of the local health department's funding stream in comparison to departments in other states.

On average, health departments around the nation receive about 30 percent of their funding from local government and 23 percent is state money. Local funding to the Fort Wayne-Allen County health department makes up 57 percent of the $4.7 million annual budget, and 8 percent comes from state grants.

Allen County continues to lag in per-capita spending for public health. Compared to the national per-capita figure of $20 per year, Allen County spends just $12.85 a person for public-health services and programs.

In other business

• Despite recent rains, Allen County has had no West Nile-positive mosquito pools so far this season, Waldron said, noting 39 pools had been tested by vector control. Marion County is the only county in Indiana to report positive mosquito pools, with two so far.

No human cases have been reported in Indiana.

While health officials keep an eye out for West Nile, McMahan said the state will likely be adding seven new diseases that health departments will be required to track.

• Permit fees for food establishments, including temporary ones, restaurants, mobile ice cream establishments, farmers markets and concession stands, will be raised if Allen County commissioners vote to approve recommendations.

A temporary farmers market annual permit will go from $60 to $75. For an operator of 20 to 30 concessions stands per building, the annual permit fee will be $1,655 per year, up from $1,500. An annual permit for a restaurant with 10 to 40 employees will go from $380 to $425.

For the first time, a late fee of 25 percent was recommended for tattoo and body piercing establishments, with the annual permit fees going from $250 to $295 for those businesses.

Once the recommended changes are reviewed and approved by commissioners, they will set the date for enforcements. Some could take effect yet this year, said John Silcox, health department spokesman.